Saturday, August 23, 2008

Zen in Horsemanship

Tension has always been a big problem for me, with my work with horses and elsewhere. I don't like new experiences, and my heart always races when I think about it.
I was reading Many Misadventures' post on her talk at leadership camp, and it really got me thinking. If I let my unrelated tension seep into my riding, Blue will respond by getting tense himself. This, in turn, makes me more tense, and there we go in a vicious cycle!
So I've been working on ways to try and release that tension so that Blue and I can work together productively. I'd like to share them with you.
*There is nothing like barn drama. Unfortunately, when you take lessons with someone you are on the outs with, it makes your lesson more than a bit awkward. I have a habit of watching my friends ride (which is hard because almost all my best friends ride in my lessons!), so I've been stopping that and I try to focus on myself. I do let myself watch their courses, since when we're jumping we're going one at a time and Blue's on a loose rein anyway. I've also stopped worrying about what the people behind me are doing. I can only control the space in front of me.
*Grooming is a great stress-reliever. Do a thorough grooming of your horse before you hop on (though make sure to give yourself plenty of time, so you don't stress out more). Curry your daily worries away!
*Don't feel the need to ride in the ring all the time. A good hack out does wonders for both you and your horse's mental clarity. Take the time to see the sights. If you can't afford to leave your schooling for the day, then take some work to the trail! There are plenty of exercises you can use on the trail (shoulder-in, leg yields, circling when you're in fields) and your horse will love you forever if you get up off of his back when going uphill!
*At shows, don't sweat the small stuff. There's always the possibility that the judge didn't see your mistake! I try to ride with a never-look-back philosophy - when I'm in the saddle, I'm only concerned with the here and now. Detailed analysis, I save for the blog!
*Pick a song with a soothing rhythm to hum to yourself or sing in your head. It helps you get your mind off of things, if you're like me and you try too hard. I like to switch songs each ride, and I like to pick a song that will match the beats of the walk, trot, canter, and hand-gallop.

In other news, next Sunday I'm riding Blue in the annual horse show/county fair! I like to think that the main attraction is the horse show - otherwise it's a pretty lame fair. We've got riders showing each day. I may try to catch Saturday's show (a lot of my friends and some younger riders I've "taken under my wing" are showing that day) but I'm definitely going Monday to groom for my mentor (other than my instructor), who's taking the cross-training post to heart and trying her hand at Hopeful Jumpers on her 17hh TB gelding! I'm riding in Novice Hunter - I think Blue would pin better (or maybe even at all!) in Pleasure Horse but it's the last class of the day and none of the three rings have lights. :'( The nice thing is that we've begun to get a more forward, what my trainer calls a "hunt field canter" going and I've gotten to be more bold at riding to the fences. I no longer fear the long five - I embrace it as a challenge! I'm not sure how much the show ring will "jazz him up", so I'm taking my spurs just in case. I do actually kind of hope he needs them - I like to know that he's not fazed by all the people and other horses! They also really sharpen his responses. We've also been working on a very strong, forward hunter trot, complete with a frame that isn't induced by hand, but by leg pushing into a slightly resistant hand! Oh, these moments of ecstasy - I'm enlightened and feeling very Zen tonight.
That would be a great title for this post.
I'll update you tomorrow - I'm hacking with a close friend and her fat mare to see if we can't get some hillwork and conditioning in before the big show day! Time to get myself psyched up for 5 AM baths and braiding and that oh-so-stylish light blue Sportsmanship armband!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Jumper Show Review

I had a lesson on Thursday, but was...gulp..."too busy to blog". But I'd like to quickly recount today's jumper show.
I didn't school, as I had to supervise the tacking, prep, and schooling of four thirteen-year-olds and their stoic mounts. Wasn't really that nervous, as Blue has been in the "point me at it and I'll jump it" mode and the jumps weren't that big.
My goals for this show were:
1. Plan ahead. Memorize your courses AND their jump-offs. Plan every stride of your ride, but be willing to change that plan if necessary. Make sure both you and the horse know which jump is next.
2. Be bold. Jumpers is about forward, and nothing sucks the fun out of it like a horse who sucks back. Jump-offs are won by daring rides, tight turns and plans that may or may not go accordingly.
3. Have fun! You have to do the big hunter show in two weeks - consider this your vacation!
Happy to report that I achieved all three goals! I did learn a couple of things, though:
1. You shouldn't expect yourself to be able to top the girls who do this EVERY weekend.
2. Straightaways where you need to go fast are great for two-point. For turns, however, you want as much weight as possible on the horse's hindquarters.
3. You can't let one mistake ruin the whole course. Accept it, and let it go and FOCUS ON THE NEXT JUMP!
4. If your trainer gives you a plan for your course but it becomes evident that the plan needs to change, be willing to be flexible. If your horse is settling in and getting the bigger distances, don't hold him unnecessarily.
5. Ride the horse you have at the moment. Just because your horse is lazy at home doesn't mean he needs a ton of encouragement at a show. This means you have to be able to read your horse, and experiment to see what he needs.
Out of 16 riders, we got a 5th and a 6th. Due to a rail in the first course (on the first jump!) I didn't pin. I'm still very proud of myself, for really stepping up to the plate, and Blue for being such a trooper!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Showing - Yay or Neigh?

I've been having a great debate of sorts with some of my friends.

Me: Pro-Showing

I believe showing is a measure of progress - how well you and your horse are improving, and learning; how you and horse are progressing in training; how well you two can band together during stressful situations.
I view my riding career as a journey - the destination, I guess, being the best rider I can possibly be. That means different things for different people. Horse shows are kind of like rest stops for me, where I can check the map and make sure I'm headed in the direction I want to be going, and then analyze the journey so far and try to make improvements. Where a lot of people get messed up is when they make showing the destination.
Plus, for me, showing is fun! Sure, sometimes I get wrapped up in the drama of it all - frustration, disappointment, politics - but mostly I savor the competition! I may be anthropomorphizing too much, but Blue seems to enjoy it, too. He really steps up to the occasion and appears to be more well-behaved at shows than he is at home!

Friend: Anti-Showing

Horse shows are a nice concept, but really not worth it. If you have any serious showing aspirations, you must have a certain type of horse, and you have to shell out some serious money to do so. Judges will refuse to place you for minutiae, and take one daring step and you become the scorn of your peers. You have no life, and you're much better off sticking to pleasure riding.

I can see an argument for either side. What do you think?

Sunday, August 10, 2008


Well, kinda, anyway.

So next Saturday we're going to a jumper show. No judges, no monogrammed stocks, no under saddle classes. Just a rider, a horse, a timer, and some seriously kick-ass jump courses.

So this Saturday we had a little lesson on tight turns. What did I learn?

1. My first instinct when riding jumpers is to go fast. On straightaways, being up in a two-point and urging Blue forward is quite acceptable. Around tight turns, though, a solid three-point, a bit of collection, and a ton of planning ahead is in order.
2. Our goal for the course is to be forward - not fast, not lollygagging - and clear. Our goal for the jump-off is to be fast and clear. Our goal for the show is to remember the course!

Since I was off at State College defending my title as State Hippology (study of the horse) Championship, I hadn't ridden in quite a bit. So after the lesson we did some nice hillwork to get back into the swing of things. Blue feels great.

Might help that we went on a trail ride the day before, which out of necessity includes hillwork. We also got caught in a thunderstorm - let's just say I have new appreciation for my Blue Horse. Nothing like a scary experience to bring your horse and you closer together. Up until then, the trail was delightful - we jumped and galloped a bit and explored. And Blue might have flinched a bit at the thunder, but he trucked along as if he knew how important it was to get home quickly.

Have fun with your horses this week, and get out there and try something new! Ride in a Western saddle if you're a hunter (it's so fun!), do some basic dressage with your barrel horse. You won't regret it!